After the massive international success of the animated series Burka Avenger, singer Haroon Rashid recently launched another animated show, Teetoo and Tania. Aimed at children, the new series showcases some of Pakistan’s most prominent personalities and highlights social messages along the way.
We chatted with the artist – who is the founder and CEO of Unicorn Black, the production company behind these animated programs – about his latest venture.
Instep: Tell us about your new animated television series, Teetoo and Tania.
Haroon: I am very excited about this new show. The quality of animation is on par with top international animation productions, and the episodes themselves are highly entertaining and have strong, positive social messages.
The premise is a lot of fun. Teetoo is an alien bureaucrat that works for the Galactic Council. The Council has identified Earthlings as a threat to the very existence of the Universe due to their penchant for aggression and war. Teetoo surveys planet Earth and determines that it should be exterminated. Pakistan is the only country left to survey. He crash lands in the backyard of Tania, a 16 year old Pakistan girl, who rushes out to help him. Touched by her kindness, he advises her to leave Earth.
Tania is shocked and takes it upon herself to change Teetoo’s mind. And so begins Tania’s stories. In each episode, Tania tells Teetoo about a different Pakistani hero or role model. As Teetoo listens to these stories, he is forced to reconsider his assessment of planet Earth.
Instep: What inspired you to create this show?
Haroon: With Burka Avenger I was highlighting a fictional role model. I thought it would be great to do a show about real life Pakistani heroes and role models.
At a time where there is much negativity about Pakistan in the media and press, this show aims to highlight Pakistani heroes and role models to inspire the youth of Pakistan. Furthermore, the series projects a positive image of Pakistan to the world. The show highlights heroes such as Edhi, who is considered one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, and Aitzaz Hasan, a school boy who sacrificed his life to prevent a suicide bomber attacking a school. Other well-known heroes include Muniba Mazari, Mushtaq Chappra (founder TCF), and many others.
Instep: Could you please tell us about the making of the show?
Haroon: The show was made at Unicorn Black, the animation production company I founded in 2012. The team had a lot of fun working on the show. Ali Safina was the voice of Teetoo, the alien. And Sara Rubab, who voiced Ashu in Burka Avenger, was the voice for Tania.
I have been a fan of Ali Safina’s work for a number of years especially his Milk Sheikh caricature. I wanted someone who can really create a character which sounds and acts from another world and he did that. So grateful for the amazing job he did.
Sara Rubab was also just brilliant as Tania. She is very smart and when we gave her the briefing, she went home and practised overnight and then next day just nailed it.
Animation is a collaborative effort. It takes a huge team to put together such a project. Nida Rehman was our production manager, Maryam Arqem our art director along with Yousuf Ejaz. Arif was our lead animator, and Zeeshan was our editor. Ommer was one of our key scriptwriters. This just a few of the 20 or so talented people that worked on Teetoo and Tania.
The quality of Teetoo and Tania is far superior to Burka Avenger. We set out to do that and we successfully achieved that. We actually animated the first episode twice. We spent a couple of months animating it and then we were like, you know what, we can do way better, let’s not compromise. And the only way to improve it was for us to build the 3D models of the characters from scratch. So we went and did that. It was a long and arduous journey but one we thoroughly enjoyed.
Instep: Burka Avenger was a huge success and was broadcast locally and internationally. Has it been difficult or easy to sell Pakistani animated kids shows to channels in Pakistan? Abroad?
Haroon: Burka Avenger won multiple awards and received press accolades worldwide and in Pakistan. The show aired on multiple TV channels in Pakistan and abroad; the show was dubbed into over 10 languages. When the show was released in Indonesia on ANTV last year it was the number one watched show in the 5 to 14 age demographic. For me this is a testament to Pakistani talent that the show was loved by people all over the world.
Teetoo and Tania is a project which is very Pakistani centric because each episode highlights real life Pakistani heroes and role models. However we have subtitled all the episodes in English and are uploading them online. This will give the rest of the world the ability to see all the wonderful work and sacrifices these real life Pakistani heroes have made. Pakistan suffers an image problem and it is up to all of us in our media to show the rest of the world a more balanced picture of Pakistan. The show is airing on PTV and all the episodes are available to view online as well to reach a world-wide audience.
If you have a quality production, then it is always easy to sell your show locally and abroad.
Instep: Unicorn Black is focusing on creating entertainment for children at the moment. Are there any projects – animated or otherwise – aimed at adults that are also in the works?
Haroon: I am very interested in working on projects for an older audience. I am full of ideas and stories for movies. At this point, we have just completed Teetoo and Tania so now we are deciding whether we should plan a full length animated feature film or dive into live action.
Instep: Is there a reason you have gravitated towards television instead of going for the big screen, like Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy has done with her 3 Bahadur series?
Haroon: I think with the success of Burka Avenger, it just made sense to do another animated TV series. It certainly was challenging. I directed and produced 52 episodes of 22 minutes each of Burka Avenger with my team at Unicorn Black. No animated project like this has ever been attempted before in Pakistan. This was over 1,100 minutes of animation. Most animated movies are not longer than 100 minutes.
Instep: You had a great run with Burka Avenger. What does the future hold for that character?
Haroon: I am super excited to announce we are working on a new Burka Avenger related project. No, not the movie. Something else that I am very excited about. I will reveal more details in the coming months.
Instep: What about your music career? Any development on that front?
Haroon: That is the golden question everyone keeps asking me. My music career did take a backseat as I jumped into animation production as well as working to create the Taazi music app. When I pick up my guitar and jam, I realise there is nothing else in the world that brings me as much joy as making music. But 2018 is the year I will release new music.
Last year, for August 14th, I launched a revamped version of my song ‘Dil Say Pakistan’ with Muniba Mazari and Javed Bashir. It received over 7 million views online, much to my shock and pleasant surprise. I thought the Pakistani music scene was dead. It is past the glory days, but there is still a strong demand. Pakistani TV channels and radio unfortunately mainly broadcast Indian and English content, so Pakistani artists have to turn to online avenues.
Instep: Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment? What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Haroon: I am one of those people who is always working on something. My brain is always ticking along. Some of the crazy ideas will see the light of day; some may not. Hopefully some of them will go on to be successful and others may crash and burn. But the main idea is to passionately keep pursuing my dreams and use creativity, media, entertainment, and art as agent for positive change in this world.